Shaun Scicchitano didn’t plan on being a father at the age of 16.
When multiple home pregnancy tests his then-girlfriend took – with Scicchitano sitting anxiously by her side – confirmed she was pregnant, Scicchitano, now 18, was frightened and nervous.
“At first it was just overwhelming. I had so many emotions. I was scared but I was also happy. I had no intentions of not being a part of my daughter’s life,” Scicchitano said recently as he and his daughter, Arielle, 2, drew with fat chalk pieces on the sidewalk of his mother’s Scenery Hill home on a hot, sunny day.
Schiccitano’s parents, initially upset, supported their son’s decision to play a significant role in his daughter’s life, and told him they would help him meet his parental obligations.
“They let me know Arielle was my responsibility, and I knew that and accepted that. She’s amazing. She is incredible. She makes my world,” said Scicchitano. “I have no regrets, but having a child throughout high school absolutely changes everything.”
Scicchitano and Arielle’s mother, Chantealy Sudduth, dated for 3 ½ years before Arielle was born, and Sudduth, who is a year older than Scicchitano, moved in with him at Schiccitano’s parents’ place to raise their daughter.
Scicchitano took a job at McDonald’s to make money to support Arielle, and he tried to juggle work, school and a baby.
“It was really difficult, trying to find a job where you didn’t work late, then go to school and try not to fall asleep during class, and take care of the baby,” he said. “Basically, I pushed off school and worked more. My daughter’s more important than school. I need to provide for her.”
His large group of friends dwindled, along with extra time he had for hunting, fishing and riding dirt bikes.
Scicchitano and Sudduth sought help from Genesis Center of Washington County, which provides classes on pregnancy, childbirth and parenting, and distributes baby furniture and supplies including car seats and baby clothes.
They also turned to Washington Health System Teen Outreach program, which taught the young parents “basically everything you need to know about being a good teen parent,” said Scicchitano.
According to a study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies in Washington, D.C., eight out of 10 teenage fathers do not marry the mothers of their first children.
A year after Arielle was born, Scicchitano and Sudduth split, amicably, and both are in relationships.
They share custody of Arielle, alternating weeks and helping each other out with child care duties if one of them has work or an appointment.
“I’m really glad about that, that we make it work between us for Arielle,” said Scicchitano.
Scicchitano’s mother, Elizabeth, is part of a family support system that enables Scicchitano to work during the weeks Arielle lives with him.
Last week, Scicchitano completed summer school in order to earn his diploma from Bentworth High School. It’s an accomplishment because, research shows, people who have children in their teens are less likely to complete high school or go on to college.
Said Mary Jo Podgurski, director of Teen Outreach, teen parenting is complicated.
“I support and respect young parents, the fathers and mothers, period. It’s not easy,” said Podgurski. “Shaun has stepped up and he’s doing the best fathering he can do.”
Scicchitano has shown a level of responsibility that has impressed his mother.
“Shaun went from being a kid to being an adult, and he does a pretty good job,” said Schiccitano’s mother, Elizabeth. “He has those moments when he doesn’t know what to do, like when she has a tantrum, but he’s learning and he’s willing to work at it.”
Scicchitano said being a young dad has been challenging, but he loves the time he spends with Arielle.
The two have tea parties, play house, draw, and play on swings.
“I just enjoy watching her grow up, watching her personality develop. She changes every day,” said Scicchitano.
Scicchitano, who works in construction, recently earned certification as a welder through Mon Valley Career and Technology Center.
He has set some goals: land a full-time job, perhaps earn a college degree, buy a house and retire young.
Sitting on a bench next to Arielle, who is sipping chocolate milk, Scicchitano reflects on fatherhood as Father’s Day approaches.
“When I found out I was going to be a parent, I did not know if I was ready to be a dad. Honestly, I still don’t know today if I’m ready to be a dad,” said Scicchitano. “But I try my best every day to be a good dad for my daughter. I can’t imagine not having her in my life.”